What is screen time?

Learn about the impacts of screen time on children

Explore the benefits and the potential risks linked to screen time. See what the research says to help your child get the most out of time spent on devices.

Children use devices beside non-connected toys.

4 things to know about screen time

'Screen time' is complicated

The term ‘screen time’ generally refers to the amount of time that someone spends using a screen. This includes television, phone and tablets.

However, our research found that how children use devices is often more important than how much time is spent with devices. As such, there isn’t any official guidance when it comes to screen time limits.

There are both benefits and risks

The use of devices can help children connect with friends, learn new skills, explore the world and more. Some children might benefit from the online space more than others as well.

However, there are also risks. It’s important to monitor how time online makes your child feel and decide how to manage this time. You can use this family agreement template to help set boundaries.

Finding balance is key

Spending too much time looking at screens can impact children’s sleep cycles, development and even mental health.

However, taking regular breaks and using devices for a range of activities can help balance children’s screen time.

Parental controls can help

Parental controls have developed in such a way that you can manage screen time in a range of ways. Whether it’s a complete overview through an app like Google Family Link or regular reports within games like Fortnite or apps like TikTok, you can find something that works for you.

See our complete range of parental controls.

Get support with screen time

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What is screen time?

Screen time is the amount of time that someone spends using a device. It includes playing games – on a smartphone or games console – streaming video content or TV shows, browsing the internet, doing homework online or engaging in any activities while using a screen.

While research suggests that too much time spent on devices can cause harm, the definition for ‘too much’ will vary between children. For example, our own research found that children with vulnerabilities such as autism benefit more from time spent online than children without the same needs. However, these children are also at greater risk of other online harms.

Similarly, children who receive free school meals are more likely to engage in risky behaviour during their screen time compared to children who do not receive free school meals. As such, they might require different screen time limits and boundaries.

Furthermore, ‘screen time’ as a term often oversimplifies device use. In fact, our Digital Wellbeing Index report found that it’s how children use their devices that impacts their wellbeing more than how long they use devices for.

For example, a child using their time online to learn and build skills will benefit more than a child who passively scrolls social media.

What research says about screen time

According to our annual survey, nearly 30% of children spend 3-4 hours on devices every day.

Children cited ‘spending too much time online’ as the issue they experienced most. However, over half of these children said it had little or no impact on them, according to our tracker survey.

Our research found that 68% of parents are concerned about their child ‘spending too much time online or on connected devices’.

When surveyed, 47% of parents said they had conversations with their child about online issues they experienced.

How does screen time impact children?

Benefits of screen time

  • Online games and activities can enhance teamwork and creativity.
  • The internet gives children access to a wealth of information to help build their knowledge.
  • Interacting with computers can improve visual intelligence and hand-eye coordination.
  • Technology takes away physical barriers to social connections, which can support children who struggle to make friends or communicate offline.
  • Children in households with computers perform better academically than peers who do not have ready access to computers.

Potential risks of overexposure to screens

  • Sleep cycles are affected by blue light from screens, tricking our brain into thinking it is still daylight, making it difficult to sleep.
  • Too much passive screen time could weaken communication and social skills.
  • Some research found that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests.
  • Screen-based entertainment increases central nervous system arousal, which can amplify anxiety.
  • Using devices while sitting in one place reduces physical activity needed for a healthy lifestyle.

What do children, parents and experts say?

Tips from mom, NPR report and author of The Art of Screen Time Anya Kamenetz on ‘How much screen time is too much?
Children's thoughts on screen time

Screen time has many benefits

Young people recognise the positive role of the internet when it comes to self-expression, developing understanding, bringing people together and respecting and celebrating differences. In fact, 47% of young people use technology to support and promote respect and kindness. Examples of this include liking or sharing someone else’s post, posting supportive comments and signing online petitions.

Social media lets them stay connected

Research suggests that children believe social media can have a positive effect on their wellbeing. For example, it enables them to stay in touch with friends and stay entertained. On the other hand, it had a negative influence when it made them worry about things they had little control over.

Furthermore, the 2023 Digital Wellbeing Index report found that nearly half of 9-10-year-old girls stayed up late on devices compared to quarter the previous year. This was partially due to not wanting to miss out on what their friends were doing. Early access to social media meant for 13+ could contribute to negative impacts on wellbeing for this age group.

Parents' thoughts on screen time

Struggling to manage screen time

Roughly half of all parents felt that they allowed their children too much screen time but were unsure how to manage it better. Parents also highlighted that they worried about the impact of social media on child’s mental wellbeing.

Ways to support children’s screen time

Parents cited the following needs to help them manage their child’s screen use:

  • To understand what parental controls are and how to use them.
  • More support on the language and tone to adopt when speaking to their own children.
  • Greater support from schools to reinforce the message.

Learn more with our 2018 Parenting Digital Natives report.

Experts' thoughts on screen time

Regular breaks are important

Advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that children should have TV free days, or have a two hour limit on the time spent in front of screens. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding screens for children younger than 18 to 24 months, except when video chatting with family.

Parents are key

Parents play a key role in keeping children safe online. This is because they serve as the primary source for information and support when issues come up. However, parents require more support themselves and cannot bear this responsibility alone.

We’ve created this hub and our range of resources to support parents in this.

Support for screen time

See what other parents do to help manage their children's screen time.

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